Google Drops Hands Free Payment Apps

Google is ditching an experimental payment tool that let users pay by phone without removing the handset from their pockets. It says it may use some of the features of the Hands Free app to improve Android Pay.

The idea was to make mobile phone payments less hassle than using a payment card, even one with a contactless chip. The app used Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi to track when the customer was in a participating store, at which point it would mark their presence on the store’s payment system.

Rather than press any buttons, the customer would simply say “I’ll pay with Google” (or words to that effect) and give their initials. The cashier would then type in the initials to put through the sale without any further action of the customer’s part.

One big hold-up was the security measure: when the feature activated, the point of sale screen would show the customer’s Google profile photo so they could check it wasn’t a stolen phone. That meant the system was limited to those companies willing to modify their POS software, which appears to have been a small list covering McDonalds and Papa John’s.

When it first started the trial, Google was even talking about building facial recognition systems into the POS equipment so it could be fully automated. That would have only been useful if the price details could be inputted without a cashier, though anyone who’s struggled through a grocery store’s self-service checkout would no doubt appreciate the ability to simply pick up the packed bags and leave rather than dig out their phone or card.

Google had said the trial was designed to test the technology rather than try to scale it. Even if the technology had worked perfectly, it would likely have been a chicken-and-egg situation with customers not bothering with the app unless they could use it widely, but retailers unwilling to support the system unless a lot of customers wanted to use it.

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